12/23/2004 12:00AM

Magna makes deals to share its signal


Magna Entertainment Corp. is living up to its recent vow to work with other companies in the racing industry.

On Thursday, Magna announced that it had reached a partnership with Churchill Downs Inc., its chief U.S. competitor, to export simulcast signals to European countries. Additionally, Youbet.com and AmericaTab said that they had reached agreements to offer Magna's signals on its online wagering platform, reversing a year-long blackout.

Magna still does not provide its tracks signals to TVG.

The partnership with Churchill takes advantage of recent federal legislation that eliminated a 30 percent withholding tax on wagers made in most European countries on U.S. racing. The legislation was passed by Congress earlier this year, after four years of heavy lobbying by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

Magna and Churchill are the two largest racing companies in the United States. The European partnership will combine the racing signals from 18 of the two companies' properties and export the signals to outlets in Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, and Germany, according to a release from the two companies. Magna's Austrian subsidiary, MEC Sport and Entertainment GmbH, will distribute the signals, the release said.

Magna and Churchill are already partners in Triple Crown Productions, along with the New York Racing Association. The partnership, which includes the three companies that hold Triple Crown races, jointly markets the television and sponsorship rights to the races, although this year NYRA went on its own to sign a separate television deal for the Belmont.

During weeklong meetings recently at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing, Magna officials told their employees that the company would seek to present a better image to other racing companies by striking partnership deals, according to several of the company's workers. Magna has been heavily criticized by many racing officials for several of its past business deals, including the withdrawal late last year of its signals from account-wagering companies that compete with Magna's Internet and telephone betting platform, XpressBet.

Included in the new deal, according to Youbet, is the signal from Pimlico Race Course, the Maryland track owned by Magna that is the home of the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. Last year, only XpressBet account-holders were able to bet on the Preakness from home.

Magna's tracks dominate the winter racing season, and its winter signals are prized by account-wagering companies. Magna owns both Santa Anita Park in Southern California and Gulfstream Park in Florida, the two most heavily bet racetracks during the winter months.